A job search is daunting as it is, but for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students, the process can be especially challenging. Is it safe and appropriate to disclose sexual orientation on your resume, cover letter or interview? The answer largely depends on individual circumstances, such as your target career field and companies. Most important are your personal preferences and experiences with your identity as well as your philosophy and understanding of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in the workplace.
LGBT Students and the Job Search
As a career counselor and a longtime ally, I have worked with many LGBT undergraduate and graduate students. I can offer a couple of rules that, I believe, apply to most LGBT students:
1. The complexities of a job search are countless, and it’s daunting even for experienced candidates. Though you may be out and proud, ASK FOR HELP from someone who is informed about the job search for LGBT students. This could be an LGBT person or ally who works at the university in the LGBT Center, other culture center or the career services office. LGBT faculty, alumni and employers offer realistic advice and support.
2. DEDICATE TIME to conduct company research and informational interviews, to prepare your resume and cover letters, and to practice for interviews. Finding companies that are the right fit, especially LGBT-friendly organizations, will pay off in the long run. Understanding if, when and how to disclose your sexual orientation in the resume, cover letter, interview or on the job all require careful and thoughtful consideration.
Should I disclose my sexual orientation to a potential employer?
LGBT students have begun to recognize that they are wanted by organizations who appreciate their contributions in the workplace. At the annual Out for Undergraduate Business Conference (OUBC) it’s safe for students to reveal their sexual orientation to employers in attendance who accept the personal brand that the students have to offer. The conference, for students interested in financial services and consulting, “helps exceptional LGBT undergraduates develop strategies for managing and leveraging their identity in the workplace.”
The purpose of OUBC is to make the application process more welcoming by identifying employers who are OK with knowing you’re gay at the onset. Otherwise, LGBT students must conduct thorough company research to ensure that the companies where they are applying have climates conducive to their professional development as well as their sexual orientation. Although you may never disclose to your employer or fellow employees, it’s to your advantage to check out the company to make sure you’ll be comfortable there.
LGBT students often tell me that they prefer to disclose their sexual orientation on their resume in order to screen out employers who aren’t tolerant. I don’t mean that these students are literally adding “sexual orientation: gay” to the resume, but rather revealing their identity through membership in student groups. I think research needs to come first. Students who want to disclose on a resume are usually comfortable being out in college and want to experience the same in the workplace. But you can’t expect the same attitudes in the workplace that you enjoy on campus.
Who is reading your resume?
Many LGBT students are genuinely concerned about the results of outing themselves on a resume. I coach students to seriously consider who’s reading the resume and what kind of message you want to send to this person. Your reader could be a human resources generalist or a hiring manager, and although the company may have a reputation for being diverse and welcoming, the complete intentions of the individual are still “unknown”.
The message summarized in your resume and cover letter is meant to support your candidacy by detailing qualifications and skills necessary to do the job. Is sexual orientation, or race or religion for that matter, a qualification for the job? Rarely. Does your sexual orientation reveal a transferable skill necessary to conduct the job? Sometimes.
A case when it would be OK to disclose your sexual orientation directly on your resume or cover letter is while applying to work with LGBT issues or with the LGBT community. Personal experience can often contribute to your ability to successfully perform on the job. In this case, being LGBT contributes to the personal brand you are conveying in your message to a hiring manager.
Tips for Resume Writing
LGBT students who are engaged in LGBT-oriented work and activities are developing professional skills that should be included on the resume. However, I know many active LGBT students who have made a firm decision to keep their sexual orientation out of their job search. They choose to proceed with caution and to empower themselves by learning about the employer before the employer learns all about them. (Don’t forget that employers will Google you and look you up on Facebook and LinkedIn.) Students create resumes that include their LGBT experiences with a few title and content changes. For example, “LGBT Center” becomes “Division of Student Affairs” (the umbrella organization) or “Culture Center”. LGBT student organizations are reframed as multicultural student groups.
I realize and respect that renaming an experience could make you feel as if you are compromising your sense of self and all that you’ve worked for through the coming out process. In fact, it may feel akin to remaining “in the closet”. Ultimately, I don’t think it’s practical to deny a LGBT-related experience from enhancing your resume.
Finding the Right Moment During an Interview
When is it advantageous to signal to a recruiter in an interview that you are concerned about the organization’s attitudes toward LGBT employees?
You can see that the question of disclosure in the job search brings up fundamental questions about coming out. Thorough and creative company research may answer some of your questions before the interview and will, at best, allow you to formulate the right questions for during the interview. Talking to current and former LGBT and non-LGBT employees is key to learning about a company’s climate. Professional networking sites and college alumni networks, particularly LGBT alumni groups, are key resources.
The wisest decision a LGBT student can make before starting the career search process is to ask for help. The more people you ask for help, the larger the party will be when you accept your first job.
Out for Work is a fantastic organization for undergraduate LGBT students. They offer free resume support services where you can receive an in-depth emailed critique with suggestions on revisions provided by an HR Professional. ”Having a strong resume is critical when searching for an internship, part time job, or full time position after graduation. For an individual who is LGBT, whether to be “OUT” on the resume is often a difficult and personal decision.”
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is, hands-down, the best source of information for identifying LGBT friendly companies. The newly released Corporate Equality Index 2010 shows a record 305 companies, from a total of 590, earned a top rating of 100%. The list includes 3M Co., AT&T, Bingham McCutchen LLP, Goldman Sachs, Hewlett Packard and IBM. The index analyzes and rates U.S. companies’ policies and practices for LGBT employees including nondiscrimination policies and diversity training, benefits, employee groups and diversity councils, and external engagement. The HRC has also made significant strides in communicating workplace information for transgender people.
Out Professionals: The Nation’s Leading Gay and Lesbian Networking Organization.
Nicole Anderson is an Assistant Director/Career Counselor for Tufts University Career Services. With fourteen years of experience in college career services, Nicole’s expertise includes career counseling undergraduates, graduate students, and alumni from liberal arts, science, engineering, business, and education.